No matter how many times they lose, the Pharisees never tire of playing gottcha with Jesus. This time they want to trip him up on the finer points of marital law. But Jesus doesn’t look at marriage the way they do. They are into contracts, conditions and codicils. He is all about love.
The Pharisees question Jesus about legal obligations. He answers them by describing the essence of married love as the twain shall be one flesh. As such, he envisions marriage as a blessed state, sanctified by God to unite loving couples. Rabbinic law and custom had codified a distinctly second class status for married women. A man could simply declare a marriage dissolved. A woman enjoyed no comparable privilege. Jesus sweeps this inequality aside. He declares the couple to be one flesh… equal before God.
While this gospel’s pronouncement on divorce is framed in absolute terms, variations and exceptions are posited by both Matthew and Paul. Princeton theologian C. Clifton Black offers a useful perspective on the letter and the intention of the text: “What may sound to our ears as relentlessly harsh assumes a different tenor when we understand that Jesus’ intent is the protection and honor of the spouse as a child created in God’s image, not as chattel to be discarded on selfish whim.” In that context Dr. Black goes on to conclude: “Although he does not address the question in Mark, it is hard to imagine that Jesus would have sanctioned a social contract in which one or both members were abusive or subject to abuse, for as Jesus frames the matter – within the goodness of God’s wholesome creation – that would be no marriage at all”
In prayerful conclave the Episcopal Church has advanced this view of continuing divine revelation. Specifically, since the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, the Body of Christ has been receiving new truth from God right up to this present day. These revelations have accelerated apace with the explosion of knowledge… in physical, medical and social sciences. Breakthroughs in genetic and behavioural sciences have given us new insights into the nature of human sexual identity. And in light of these new realities, the Episcopal Church… in the spirit of God’s unconditional love… has been moved to extend the blessings of marriage to committed same-sex couples. We celebrate as sacred these unions of our beloved brothers and sisters. And we urge the faithful to support and embrace them as surely Jesus does.
Through married love… both by natural birth and by adoption… successive generations come forth to be baptized in Christ. And it is the faith formation of children that is the focus of the second part of this gospel. Jesus is preaching and a group of parents want some of his goodness to rub off on their kids. The scene is so easy to visualize. The parents are pushing forward. The kids are being kids. And the disciples are trying to maintain some kind of order. The results are a sublimely teachable moment. Jesus declares his unconditional commitment to love, even at the expense of decorum. Let the children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Taken together, these two brief lessons can be seen as the New Testament in microcosm. Love trumps legalism. God’s priorities are not the world’s priorities. The proud and the powerful are put on notice: Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. And to cap it all, the love of Jesus is always accessible. It’s there for the taking, as when: He embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
Not a word of what Jesus said to the children is recorded in scripture, but what a powerful lesson he preached. He swept aside the barriers raised against the children. He did not just talk to them of God’s love. He held them in that love. He blessed them with it. In imitation of Christ’s powerful lesson, St. Francis urges us: “Preach the gospel at all times…use words when necessary.” What a lesson for those of us still too inhibited or politically correct to proclaim Christ to the world. While we gather courage to vocally evangelize, let our love do the preaching for us.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons